HI! Finally we are on to the 1950s Kittens!. I am not as into 50’s fashion as I am the 20’s and 30’s, but like the 40’s there are important social changes tied to fashion that I find interesting and relevant to my own style.
1950s fashion reflected the renewed feeling of optimism and freedom in Europe and America. It was fun, vibrant, flirtatious and a full departure from the worthy practicality of 1940s fashion. It was the last great age of the pinup girls, the teenager was invented and rock’n’roll was born.
The fashion idustry pushes the attitude “be beautiful and have fun”. It was also the decade of the start of ‘social deviance’ in the form of alt fashion scene. And a movement to push women back into the submissive role…..
DIOR… IT’S ALL IN THE TIMING. Christian Dior – 1905 – 1957 French
As we know Christian Dior re-launched the so called “New Look” in 1947, where it caused a storm because of its ‘wasteful’ use of fabric, but ultimately it was what the people wanted so the discouragement of the powers that be was generally ignored by all…including the royal princesses!. The look was actually called the Corolle line, it was the fashion press that dubbed it the New Look, and that is what it remained.
It was the most perfect timing for Dior to make fashion history. The new look was everything that was forbidden under wartime rationing. Women yearned for flirtatious, feminine, ‘fashion for fashions sake’ clothing that did not look like a civilian version of military uniforms.
The new look was all of that and more, even I can remember the first time I saw an image of it, it took my breath away, so I can only imagine what it must have been like at the time.
The look was typified by a tightly fitted jacket with a cinched in waist and a circular calf length skirt, held up and out with stiff petticoats. The fitted jackets were also worn with the slightly lesser well known pencil skirt style, and a scarf tied around the neck to cover the decolette (this was needed because women tended to wear just their lingerie under the jacket). Either way, the look focused its attention on the tiny waist.
The most famous patterns needed yards of fabric, about 10 yards for early styles building up to a massive 80 yards! This kind of open rebellion to the rationing wartime mindset was the tonic 1950s fashion needed, and it dominated the fashion world for almost 10 years.
The full skirts and cinched waists were not really a practical look though. They were hard to move in and totally unsuitable for working in, with accessories that serve no purpose. All of which lends strength to the argument that it was part of an attempt to get women back into the home and out of the workplace now the men had returned. It was a …so to speak…far right reaction to a previous far left situation. One extreme to another.
CHANEL- BACK TO THE FUTURE. Coco Chanel – 1883 to 1971 – French.
It was in 1954 that the great Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel reopened her fashion house for her industry changing comeback and started making the boxy suit jacket and slim skirts made from textured wool fabrics we now recognize immediately as the Chanel suit. It was a departure from the shape of the first half of the 1950s, being more straight up and down than nipped in at the waist. And was a style which was easy to copy. Chanel declared the Dior look old fashioned…which in truth it was. Coco herself had actually put out some dresses in a similar style in the late 1930s. And so the ‘new look’ was almost a decade old when it first came out and had been on the scene for years when Chanel made her comeback. The people agreed with her.
Coco Chanel was a smart, forward thinking enough business woman to realize that Haute Couture was not going to last much longer. The climate of the new culture going into the latter part of the 1950s would favour ready to wear fashions. So to survive Chanel realized that the future was in branding and selling to the masses. The foundation was laid for a change, a break in the mold that would never be undone.
Myself, I have no time for the 50’s Chanel look, its just not glamorous enough for my taste. And its not exactly sexy is it girls?. But it is too important to the way fashion works today not to have a mention.
THE MASS MARKET
Haute Couture design models were now being licensed to department stores. Stores paid large sums of money to the fashion houses for a Toile (a basic fabric copy of the garment) With every instruction they needed to make the garment for their own collections. Making thousands of these copies enabled the stores to sell what would have been an expensive designer outfit for much much less. Today this is just the way we take it for granted the department and chain stores work, bringing out cheap imitations of the catwalk fashions within weeks that are sometimes so similar it seems almost criminal.
THE TEENAGER COMETH.
What is it about teenagers that makes everyone who isn’t one, hate them?. I know it cant be envy because I still remember how much it sucked. Such an integral part of our culture now but we owe (or can blame, depending on your point of view) the 1950s fashion industry for their existence as we know it. Before the 1950s there was no such thing as teenagers. Young people just went right from children to dressing the same way as their parents.
During the 50s there was a whole range of factors influencing the youth of the day ranging from TV , film, magazines and most of all music, that were tempting them with their wicked influences, turning them and their newly disposable incomes into a powerful market force.
The teenage look shared similar silhouettes to the rest of 1950s fashion just, well, younger, brighter, more brash and attention seeking. Think the cast of grease. It is this image we most associate with the 50s and is quite easy to find reproductions of today.
In Great Britain there were also the ‘Teds’ though, who in fashion and social history are more important IMHO. Short for Edward because they rejected most of 1950s fashion and wore Edwardian style clothing, they were the punks or goths of their day. They were the first significant teenage sub-culture and their look was a fastidious one that they took great time over.
For the guys it was long dark coloured jackets with velvet collars called ‘Drape jackets’, tight straight leg trousers and fancy waistcoats. For the women tight skirts and dresses worn with the same drape jackets, flat shoes and antique cameo jewelry.
Their look became, somewhat undesrvedly, associated with Rock-n-roll and with violence (though it pre-dates that genre and was originally connected to jazz). It is the basis of the modern ‘rockabilly’ look. Which is also easy to find from the likes of Switchblade Stiletto . If I had lived then I would have been one of them.
So you owe the Teds of 1950s Great Britain for fashion and music focused alt subcultures AND for wearing vintage clothing as a statement of dissatisfaction with what’s around you.
On that note I will leave you for today.
Have a revolutionary day Kittens xxx